LIHU‘E — The county has 16 boards and commissions, groups that provide oversight to the administration as well as generate discussions and rules.
For example, the county’s Police Commission offers oversight of and transparency within the Kaua‘i Police Department, and has the responsibility to hire and fire the police chief, and the Planning Commission oversees public hearings on zoning and land-use permits and applications.
And, like every facet of life, these groups have also been affected by the pandemic.
“Initially, all commission meetings were canceled until the Office of Boards and Commissions could train the commissioners (and) board members using a virtual-meeting platform to conduct their meetings,” said Ellen Ching, administrator of the Office of Board and Commissions.
Commissions, boards and committees were provided with individual and group training before being able to transition to virtual meetings, Ching said.
All five staff members within the Office of Boards and Commissions have been reassigned to the county’s Emergency Operations Center to work with Kaua‘i Emergency Management Agency. There, they’ve helped to field calls and review and respond to quarantine-modification requests.
The staff members have been helping in the EOC off and on since March, Ching said, but “in earnest” moved over in mid-August.
“With the increased KEMA duties, there has been a delay to the posting of minutes as well as a cancellation of activities that would normally occur,” Ching said, noting that the Kaua‘i County Committee on the Status of Women wasn’t able to host its Girl Career Day Summit in the fall.
The Fire Commission, which meets on the first Monday of each month, has a gap in posted approved minutes, missing from June through September of this year.
Staff also took on some review and management of the county’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act grant fund, Ching said at a Dec. 17 Police Commission meeting. “As luck would have it, we received the most applications, and as a result, we review and manage the most grantees.”
All of this resulted in five commissions going on hiatus, Ching said, including the KCCSW, Historic Preservation Commission and Open Space Commission.
The Charter Review Commission, which wrapped up the bulk of its 2020 election duties, will go on hiatus for at least six months due to limited staff support, Ching said. That commission submitted six amendments to the county’s charter, which were all approved by voters in November. Its last meeting was in September.
The Planning Commission’s schedule, too, has been affected. Normally, it runs twice a month, but switched to once a month in June. Planning Commission meeting minutes were last updated in September, with the last logged from the May 12 meeting.
For at least the past three years, the Police Commission has been working to amend its rules, with an undertaking in April 2018.
For the next few months of that year, the commission made several steps forward, including meeting with a past county attorney to discuss a draft. In June of that year, amending the rules were put on hold following a June presentation that Ching described as “quite contentious.”
The commission then shifted its focus to hiring a new police chief.
In November 2019, the commission designated commissioners Kevin Mince and Mary Kay Hertog to work on amending the commission’s rules. In February 2020, a county attorney emailed guidance on the need to form a permitted interaction group, or PIG, Ching explained at a Dec. 17 Police Commission meeting.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of work done on these rules by the commissioners, the county attorneys, as well as my office,” Ching said.
County Managing Director Michael Dahilig weighed in at the meeting, too, regarding the delay in amending the rules.
“We’ve had to make a lot of priority decisions related to our COVID response, and a lot of that really does involve the utilization of our appointees,” he said.
Dahilig explained the workload many county employees have faced, many coming in outside of working hours, to get COVID-19 operations squared away on top of regular duties.
“But there are things that have not been able to be accomplished,” Dahilig said.
Dahilig explained that because staff is short, five other commissions have been “mothballed.”
“They are not operating, and we have also gotten, you know, concerns from those commission chairs and their respective members as to why they are not even operating,” he said. Work has been prioritized for the Police Commission due to its public-safety aspect.
Further, Dahilig said, “There are things that are nice to have that we, at this point, cannot fully commit to doing on a normal course or normally-planned basis, and we asked for your folks’ understanding with that.”
Hertog, who has been working on the rules, said “the problem has been dragging on for two years, so this was pre-COVID where we didn’t get a lot of movement on it as well.”
Hertog also focused on the “inconsistent guidance” from county attorneys regarding the formation of a PIG or two-person working group, which County Attorney Matt Bracken advised as “best practice.”
“I consider these rules more than just ‘nice to have.’ These are necessary for new commissioners coming on board so they understand their scope of responsibilities, what they can and cannot do,” Hertog said.
Mince said he and Hertog have been working on the rules since 2016 with various county attorneys and administrators.
The commission will start with the formation of a PIG in the new year, and work on individual rules and recommendations.
But many groups have continued their work, including the Board of Ethics and Liquor Control Commission, without much trouble.
And once the Salary Commission makes a decision on whether it will move forward with a resolution regarding maximum salary caps, the commission may go on hiatus, too.
Official announcements on whether the KCCSW conducting a meeting in January or the Historic Preservation Commission taking up for the first time since March in February 2021 have not been made.
“We are always looking at ways to fully resume boards and commission activities, and we look forward to the day when we can all regain the ability to conduct the affairs of the county as we did in the past,” Ching said.
Sabrina Bodon, reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.